Kindhearted souls deliver joy of Christmas to hospitalized children

December 24, 1992|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Staff Writer

Nikki Guy beams with delight when she spots Santa strolling through the halls of University of Maryland Medical Center's pediatrics ward.

L But sorry, Santa, you are not the only reason she's smiling.

The bouncy 7-year-old Cockeysville youngster was hospitalized after suffering an asthma attack five days before your visit. This day, Nikki is going home. She's busy making plans, inspired, of course, by your visit.

"I'm going to bake cookies for Santa, and then I will take some outside to leave for his reindeer," Nikki says.

Children's hospital wards bustle with activity this time of year. This fact testimony to the basic goodness of not only parents and hospital staff and volunteers, but also strangers -- people who have no connection to the children they are visiting but whose hearts are filled with seasonal cheer.

They come bearing presents. They come dressed as Santa. They carol merrily down the halls to bring holiday spirit to the pint-sized patients on the hospital's fifth floor.

"Constantly, throughout December we have people trooping in here," says Evelyn Kumoji, a registered nurse in the pediatrics department.

Their reward? Sometimes it's seeing a child's face light up. Other times, it's just knowing they have diverted a child's mind from suffering -- if only momentarily.

Their challenge? Bringing brief comfort to youngsters who want most of all to be someplace else, giggling with siblings, peeking at presents, playing with friends.

"Any gift he wants to pick out for himself this Christmas -- it's his," says Marietta Rollins of Frederick, who spends days and nights at the side of her 16-year-old son, Maurice. A cancer patient, he is so weak he can hardly acknowledge the ward's festivities.

Maurice has a one-wish Christmas list.

"To go home," he said in a barely audible voice.

Mrs. Rollins glances at her son, a brown-eyed, handsome boy whose hair has been shaved off. She doesn't want to set Maurice up for any disappointment. Still, she prays his wish will come true. "He will be home . . . we hope," she says, cautiously. Her eyes look sad. "He's been here on and off since March."

A chorus of Christmas tunes echoes from the hallway. On this day, members of the hospital's housekeeping staff walked through pediatrics singing "Joy to the World" and other carols. A humor therapist -- a hospital version of a court jester -- makes frequent visits. The year-round therapist is paid to entertain and amuse the young patients.

Many Santas find their way to the children's ward. It isn't hard to find: Strung across the halls are paper gingerbread doll cutouts made by the staff, volunteers and some patients. The doors to the patients' rooms are festooned with bells and Christmas wrapping. Throughout the ward are decorated Christmas trees; smaller trees brighten each child's room.

Ronald McDonald and the Oriole Bird have already visited. So has a group of 8-year-olds, a Glen Burnie Brownie troop that brought gifts. The honor society from Meade High School in Anne Arundel County also brought presents and sang to the children.

With contagious good humor, Jim Riley, a life insurance salesman from Baltimore Life Underwriters Association Inc., assumes the guise of the Jolly One at a party sponsored by his organization. Down the hall he roams, to visit children who are too ill to attend the party. He doles out presents and laughs.

A silver-plated, heart-shaped jewelry box goes to 18-year-old Consuella Ingram.

"The jewelry comes next year," Mr. Riley quips. "It's an installment-type thing."

Off he goes, again, from room to room. In one, a toddler -- recently transferred from intensive care to intermediate care -- extends his short arms from a crib to receive a stuffed animal.

Down the hall, Santa's timing and his gift for Lamont Smith are perfect.

The 18-year-old, who was hospitalized because he had a very low blood count, is alone in his room, working on a crossword puzzle, when Santa walks in with a new book of crosswords.

Home is where Lamont's thoughts are. On Christmas Day, "I want to be eating and laughing and joking around the table," he says. "I want to be there helping to put my little nephew's toys together."

Outside Lamont's door, 13-year-old Natalie Manuel maneuvers her wheelchair up and down the hall.

She's happily showing off gifts: the black-and-white necklace is a donation from the underwriters association. The colorful cap on her head is from a group of Air Force personnel who visit sick children every Christmas. The Trivial Pursuit game is from a bag of donated gifts.

Natalie, who is frequently hospitalized for chemotherapy treatments, appreciates the gifts, but has a better idea of how to spend Christmas.

"I hope I'm not here," she said. "I want to eat that big dinner at home and not this hospital food!"

Daivon Winston will be home, eating his mother's cooking on Christmas. Sandra Winston received an early Christmas present: her 13-month-old son will go home, she has just learned.

"He had a virus and difficulty breathing, but we are going home today!" she says. "I am so glad! Everything there is to do on Christmas, I am going to do it!"

In a nearby room, Amalia Colthirest cuddles 11-month-old Darius, who entered the hospital about a week ago with flu-like symptoms.

Mom wants him home on Dec. 25, and not just because it's a

holiday.

"Christmas is his birthday," she says to a visitor at her son's bedside. "He'll be 1."

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